Torii Kiyomitsu I
Ōtani Hiroji III as Sakata no Kintoki and Onoe Matsusuke I as Bijo Gozen

Signed: Torii Kiyomitsu ga; Publisher’s seals: Eijudō Hibino han and Nishimura; kyōgōzuri (proofsheet of a line plate), hosoban, 31.0 x 13.5 cm; sumizuri-e

This print is a partial poof, the complete version can be found as a two-colour print (benizuri-e) in the Michener Collection in Honolulu. In the corners, the printer also included individual proofs of the heads of each of the protagonists. Ōtani Hiroji III is playing Sakata no Kintoki in the costume of a sanbasō dancer. Onoe Matsusuke is playing a shirabyōshi dancer named Bijo Gozen. Sanbasō dances were executed before the beginning of a new theatre season, at the beginning of the year, and before kaomise productions.

Geyger, inv.no.16372 (KG p.118 / KGE p.128)

The leaf is a proof sheet for a woodblock by Kiyomitsu I, of which a finished print in benizuri-e (two-colour print) is to be found in the Michener Collection, Honolulu.

Above and below, the printer has added impressions of the heads of the two protagonists.

 Ôtani, Hiroji plays Sakata-no-Kintoki, who is dressed as a Sambasô dancer. Onoe, Matsusuke plays a female dancer by the name of Bijo Gozen. We see the two actors in a dance scene from the play Furitsumuhana Nidai Genji, which was performed in the eleventh month of the year 1765 at the Ichimura-za theatre.

A Sambasô dance number was usually performed at the opening of a new season—mostly by the zamoto (theatre director) and his son—as an expression of wishes for good luck and blessings from the beginning. The kaomise, in which the actors showed themselves to their public with little make-up, as well as the first day of the New Year, were opened with such a Sambasô dance performance. Sambasô was already known in the late Heian Period (early 12th c.). The performer, dressed like an old man, danced with two other old men in the shiki-samba, the three “good luck-bringing dances.” These had their origins in dances associated with Buddhist monasteries. Chichi-no-ha (the aged father) was already regarded at the time as a personification of Buddha himself: Okina symbolized the Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Sambasô (the third old man), the Buddha of the Future.

The role crystallized out of these original meanings and retained its character of promising an auspicious future into the Kabuki period. From the end of the Kamakura Period (1148-1333), the Sambasô was danced by a Kyôgen actor at the beginning of a Nô performance.

In Kabuki the dance was integrated into a theatre play. In the scene shown here, the actor Ôtani, Hiroji plays Sakata-no-Kintoki one of the faithful companions of Raikô, Minamoto-no-Yorimitsu, who conquered and slew the Shûten-dôji, a man-eating monster. Kintoki is dressed here as a Sambasô dancer. Bijo Gozen, a Shirabyôshi dancer, assists him. Hiroji is dressed only in an apron, over which hang ropes on which little bells are sewn. He has hung a cloak, decorated with cranes as symbols of a long life, over his shoulders. On his head he wears the characteristic tall black headwear with white lines. In his right hand he swings a little bell-tree, in his left he holds a lacquered box for storing masks.

Matsusuke’s kimono as Bijo Gozen displays cherry blossoms, while his uchikake is identical to that of the Sambasô dancer; his head is adorned with a samurai cap. He beats on a little hour-glass drum. On this trial print, a background decoration of a pine tree has been preserved which was replaced in the leaf in the Michener Collection by architectural detail.

Onoe, Matsusuke (1744-1815) started playing female roles in Ôsaka from 1755. He played male roles from 1771. In 1809 he changed his name to Shôroku. He died at the age of 71. Since the sons of Onoe, Kikugorô had died young, Matsusuke took their place as his pupil after their death. After his change from female impersonator to actor of male roles he became one of the most impressive actors of his time. He was particularly gifted in depicting ghosts. He invented many stage tricks. For example, in one play he acted three roles simultaneously on the stage.

Ôtani, Hiroji I belonged to the shi-tennô, the “Four Greatest Actors of this Time”. The son of a Kabuki actor, he began his acting career at the age of four. As an adult, he was famous for his interpretation of positive heroes (tachi-yaku) like Asahino, Saburô. Rapid costume change on stage (hiki-nuki), made possible by loosely sewing costumes so that they could be instantly ripped apart, was his innovation. He also invented the trapdoor on stage, first used when he appeared with Danjurô II at the Ichimura-za in 1727.